‘He brought forth some of the most searing images of the 20th century’: Death of the photographer whose pictures defined the Vietnam War

Horst Faas, a prize-winning combat photographer who set new standards for covering war with a camera, has died aged 79.

The German, who joined US-based news agency The Associated Press (AP) in 1956, photographed wars, revolutions and Olympic Games.

But he was best known for covering Vietnam, where he was severely wounded in 1967 and won four major photo awards including the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes.

Combat zone: US Army helicopters pour machine gun fire into a tree line to cover an advance by South Vietnamese troops in this March 1965 photo by Horst Faas

Combat zone: US Army helicopters pour machine gun fire into a tree line to cover an advance by South Vietnamese troops in this March 1965 photo by Horst Faas

As chief of AP’s photo operations in Saigon for a decade starting in 1962, Faas covered the fighting while recruiting and training new talent from among foreign and Vietnamese freelancers.

The result was ‘Horst’s army’ of young photographers, who fanned out with Faas-supplied cameras and film and stern orders to ‘come back with good pictures’.

Faas and his editors chose the best and put together a steady flow of telling photos – South Vietnam’s soldiers fighting and its civilians struggling to survive amid the maelstrom.

Captivating: Women and children crouch in a muddy canal as they take cover from Vietcong fire at Bao Trai, 20 miles west of Saigon, Vietnam. The January 1, 1966 image is another captured by Horst Faas

Captivating: Women and children crouch in a muddy canal as they take cover from Vietcong fire at Bao Trai, 20 miles west of Saigon, Vietnam. The January 1, 1966 image is another captured by Horst Faas

Among his top proteges was Huynh Thanh My, an actor turned photographer who in 1965 became one of four AP staffers and one of two South Vietnamese among more than 70 journalists killed in the 15-year war.

My’s younger brother, Huynh Cong ‘Nick’ Ut, followed his brother at AP and under Faas’s tutelage won one of the news agency’s six Vietnam War Pulitzer Prizes, for his iconic 1972 picture of a badly burned Vietnamese girl fleeing an aerial napalm attack.

Faas, who dies in Munich yesterday, was a brilliant planner – able to score journalistic scoops by anticipating ‘not just what happens next but what happens after that’, as one colleague put it.

'Legendary': Horst Faas, pictured right in Vietnam in 1967

‘Legendary’: Horst Faas, pictured right in Vietnam in 1967

His reputation as a demanding taskmaster and perfectionist belied a humanistic streak he was loath to admit, while helping less fortunate ex-colleagues and other causes.

He was widely read on Asian history and culture, and assembled an impressive collection of Chinese Ming porcelain, bronzes and other treasures.

In later years Faas turned his training skills into a series of international photojournalism symposiums.

Faas also helped to organise reunions of the wartime Saigon press corps, and was attending a combination of those events when he became ill in Hanoi on May 4 2005.

 Lt Col George Eyster of Florida is placed on a stretcher after being shot by a Vietcong sniper at Trung Lap, South Vietnam on January 16, 1966

Lt Col George Eyster of Florida is placed on a stretcher after being shot by a Vietcong sniper at Trung Lap, South Vietnam on January 16, 1966

He was hospitalised first in Bangkok and then in Germany, where doctors traced his permanent paralysis from the waist down to a spinal haemorrhage caused by blood-thinning heart medication.

Although requiring a wheelchair, he continued to travel to photo exhibits and other professional events, mainly in Europe.

Faas also made two arduous trips to the United States, in 2006 and 2008.

His health deteriorated in late 2008. Hospitalised in February for treatment of skin problems, he also underwent gastric surgery.

Faas’ Vietnam coverage earned him the Overseas Press Club’s Robert Capa Award and his first Pulitzer in 1965.

Wounded in action: US soldiers are treated on a battlefield in Vietnam on April 2, 1967

Wounded in action: US soldiers are treated on a battlefield in Vietnam on April 2, 1967

Receiving the honours in New York, he said his mission was to ‘record the suffering, the emotions and the sacrifices of both Americans and Vietnamese in … this little bloodstained country so far away’.

Burly but agile, Faas spent much time in the field and on December 6, 1967, was wounded in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade at Bu Dop, in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

He might have bled to death had not a young US Army medic managed to stem the flow.

He often teamed with Pulitzer Prize-winning AP reporter Peter Arnett to produce powerful and exclusive reports such as the 1969 story of Company A, an army unit that balked at orders to move against the enemy.

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[dailymail.co.uk]

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About Tommy Z.™

Just A Human Want's To Live A Life View all posts by Tommy Z.™

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